ORCIERES-MERLETTE, France — After just four stages at the Tour de France, the balance of power is already clearer: Primoz Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma team are looking like the ones to beat.
Roglic, the Spanish Vuelta champion, used the race’s first summit finish Tuesday in the ski resort of Orcieres-Merlette to erase any lingering doubts surrounding his form.
Following an impressive collective performance from his teammates, the former ski jumper from Slovenia won a sprint to secure his third career stage win at the three-week race. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe managed to follow the late accelerations and kept the race leader’s yellow jersey after crossing the line in fifth place.
“It was quite a fast day, it was hard but the guys again did a really good job,” Roglic said, thanking his teammates for their support in the final climb. “I was always in a good position and so could do a nice sprint, so I’m very happy.“
Roglic completed the 100-mile ride in 4 hours, 7 minutes, 47 seconds.
With a strategy used in previous years by defending champion Egan Bernal’s Ineos squad, Roglic’s teammates Wout van Aert and Durango’s own Sepp Kuss set a very fast tempo on the final four-mile climb, preventing any attack from the likes of Alaphilippe, Thibaut Pinot, Nairo Quintana or Bernal.
“The Jumbo-Visma train was really hard to follow,” Alaphilippe said.
Roglic couldn’t drop any of his rivals but used his power to prevail in the sprint launched by Frenchman Guillaume Martin with 500 meters left. Roglic, who moved third overall thanks to the bonus time awarded to the stage winner, reached a speed of 32 mph as he raised both arms to cross the line.
Tadej Pogacar secured a Slovenian one-two and Martin completed the podium.
Overall, Alaphilippe kept a four-second lead over Adam Yates of Britain, with Roglic three seconds further back.
Roglic’ participation at cycling’s marquee race was in doubt only weeks ago after his withdrawal from the Critérium du Dauphine because of injuries he sustained in a crash.
“I’m coming back,” Roglic said. “We can see that I can race and every day I feel a little better. It’s nice to be able to ride again. I already got proof that I was ready for the start. Now we need to continue the whole team with good job.”
Bernal crossed with the same time as Roglic in the ski resort where Luis Ocana handed five-time Tour winner Eddy Merckx a resounding defeat back in 1971. Trailing 17 seconds behind Alaphilippe overall, Bernal said the longer climbs in the big mountain stages that will come later in the race will be more suited to his pure climber’s style.
“It is not good when another GC (general classification) rider takes some seconds, but you need to be really patient and to know that our aim is to reach the third week without losing too much time, and then try and regain a bit of time on the long climbs,” he said. “For us, it will be all about minimizing the time lost and arriving as fresh as we can for the last week.”
Before the final battle took shape, a group of six riders attacked from the start outside the city of Sisteron. But with Frenchman Alexis Vuillermoz a threat in the overall classification, Alaphilippe’s teammates did not let the breakaway riders build too much of a gap.
The sextet did not collaborate well as German Nils Politt tried to drop his companions twice in downhills. As he tried to bridge the gap, Belgian Tiesj Benoot escaped unscathed from a spectacular crash with 26 kilometers left after he misjudged a curve and went over a guardrail at full speed. His bike was broken in two but he was given a replacement and returned to the race.
The six breakaway riders were all caught by the pack before the final ascent.
Stage 5 will take riders from Gap to Privas on a mainly flat route suited for sprinters. The three-week Tour, which was postponed from its usual July slot due to the coronavirus, ends in Paris on Sept. 20